10 Cool Inventions From the 1980s

DNA Fingerprinting
Genetic markers are now a vital part of forensic science.
Genetic markers are now a vital part of forensic science.
Ryan McVay/Thinkstock

Science was forever changed in 1984, and the groundbreaking moment had nothing to do with George Orwell's famous sci-fi dystopia. British geneticist Alec Jeffreys was trying to trace genetic markers through family generations when he accidentally discovered something far more important: Every unique person has an equally unique DNA profile. Seems obvious, right? Well, at the time, it wasn't -- and Jeffreys' realization had a huge impact on science and many other industries.

Unique genetic profiles are derived from the profiles of our parents, meaning lineage can be traced back through generations with DNA testing. But there are obviously other uses, too -- imagine modern-day criminal investigation without DNA forensics. Jeffreys coined the term DNA fingerprinting and earned a knighthood for his work.

As DNA fingerprinting spread from Jeffreys' lab, so did its scope. Today, the world of forensic science owes its development to DNA profiling. And like humans, animals have unique genetic codes that can be used to -- for example -- catch poachers illegally selling the skins of endangered animals.